Kissing the Thin Man

I’ll never forget the first time I got really scared. I mean really, REALLY scared. We’re talking the kind of piss-in-your-boots, kiss your tail goodbye, you are going to die SCARED.

What I was scared of was that my momma was going to kill me. Not just me, but me and my brother.

Don’t ask me what set it off. We rarely knew what would set momma off. Only that when she went ‘off’, it was time to run, duck, and hide.

This was one of them. One of the worst times ever. And it happened when I was five years old.

No doubt we’d done something – trying her patience in some manner, as little children will – whether it be through endless questions, or pestering her about something, or just being around.

Sometimes that was all it took. Simply existing. She hated males, and at times she hated us. Vehemently. Hatefully. And cruelly.

The only thing was, we were too young and too powerless to do anything about it.

And this time we were really scared.

Dad was gone somewhere – probably off at work, in one of those long low slung white buildings with the towering red brick chimneys that so often got struck by lightning – and as I said, we must of done something.

Probably just being little kids; I’m sure that was it, and it was so like her to take out her vengeance on us for doing something like that. Being kids, that is. Him being seven, and me being five.

I don’t know what happened; how it started; the memory just picks up – no beginning, but a definite end.

We are running through the house, my brother and I. Dashing, running, hiding, going under the kitchen table, around the cabinets, through the rooms (there were only two of them, and one was our mother’s – we were sorely forbidden to ever go in there, so I know we never did). And my mother is screaming and chasing us with a big ol’ butcher knife – the largest one she can find.

And she’s screaming she’s gonna kill us; this time for certain, she’s saying “I’m SICK of it I’m SICK of you two kids I’m SICK of you It’s time for you to DIE you little (bleep-bleep deleted).”

Now there’s really not a whole lot of places to run. This is a small house. There is the living room with its little connected ‘anteroom’ which is just a widening of the hallway near the front door. There’s the kitchen, with a door opening to the bedrooms – you can make a small loop, if you keep on running (we did), through the living room, dash through the anteroom past the door to the master bedroom, left into the kitchen, cut a sharp left, through the doorway – left again, past OUR bedroom, into the living room again, ad infinitum.

Round and round we go. There is no escaping this woman. We don’t go around the kitchen table; we go under it. (I can still see the chromed tubular steel chair legs.) We dash around and dash around – until my brother, my foolish, foolish brother, tugs me into our bedroom.

Its a box trap. I’m not stupid, I recognize it as such; a dead end, nowhere left to run, no escape except back through the door we’d come in. And my brother, he pulls the door all the way open, then tugging on my shoulder, encourages me to get in that narrow space with him between the back of the door and the wall.

I know this is stupid; I know she is going to find us there; I can hear her screaming like a wild banshee coming through the kitchen. I know we’re not going to escape this time – but I’m winded and so tired from running that I decide to give in to my brother’s stupid decision. I have NO doubt she’s gonna find us there . . . and yet some small part of me clings onto the hope that perhaps he’s right . . . that my older brother is going to be right this time.

So I pause, holding my breath as we hear the screams coming.

“I’m gonna KILL you! Kill you little (bleep bleeps some more)” My back is against the wall, the door pressed against my nose. I’m desperately praying she doesn’t look between the crack where the door hinges lay – if she does, she’ll see my brother standing there for sure. I’m sheltering him; he was first in, so he’ll the the last one out. Or taken out. (Maybe that was his plan. Who knows? These are little kids we’re talking about.)

We hear the footsteps coming closer. The screaming has stopped, and I know she’s sneaking around, looking for us. I’m holding my breath, praying to a god I don’t know, hoping for a miracle without knowing that miracles exist. Staring at that wide blank expanse of door.

Suddenly, with such a rush that it catches us both by surprise, my mom yanks the door back with such force that the wind from it literally sucks the hair over our eyes. Then my hair – I swear! – stands right up on end, for she is standing right there with a triumphant look of joy, the butcher knife poised high in the air, coming down to strike, an evil, EVIL witch’s cackle ripping from her lips.

And then it stops (not the chuckle, but the knife) just inches away from my chest. She drops the knife to her side, and still chuckling, turns and walks away.

And me and my brother are left standing there, both bewildered and terribly relieved.

I have never – NEVER – been as scared as I was in that single moment. Even after forty-five years, and six of those in the Marines – I’ve faced death plenty of times – but NEVER did it scare me as bad as it did that time.

Somehow, sometimes, I think she scared the fear of death right out of me. And maybe even us, since my brother went on later to do some pretty dumb s**t himself. Stuff that should’ve gotten him killed, and me a few times as well.

As for myself – well, looking the old Thin Man in the face a few times since then (that’s what I call Death: the Thin Man) – I can always roll my mind back to that day, that time . . . and laugh at him.

He ain’t got nuthin‘ over my momma.

She’d of spanked him and sent him home cryin’ for his momma.

Too bad we couldn’t.

Cry for our momma, that is.


PS: The name for the title comes from something I remember: The Thin Man, who represents the Man Death (he’s thin because he’s a skeleton, you see) – the Grim Reaper, et all that kind of stuff.